In line with the current demand for all types of property and land, smallholdings for sale are highly sought after by those seeking a more rural environment; an added incentive for many is that they can offer a self-sufficient lifestyle. The definition of a smallholding is indistinct and whilst it is widely regarded as being a productive farm of less than 50 acres, the Collins dictionary defines a smallholding as a piece of land used for farming which is smaller than a normal farm.
The Covid-19 effect and the rise in working from home has made the notion of selling a house in the town or city and buying a potentially bigger property in a rural area an attractive reality. Whilst buyers realise that the further from urban areas, the better value can be found, the uptake in interest for farms of all descriptions offers an opportunity for many remote farmers to capitalise on the current market.
Traditional smallholding buyers are now up against greater competition from a range of purchasers and rising land values in some areas is inevitably pushing up the price of smallholdings; a major factor in sales being the condition of the house. The average value of farmland in England and Wales reached £7,000 an acre for the first time since 2019 according to Knight Frank’s Farmland Index, Q2 2021, and predictions are that prices will continue to rise.
Types of buyers for smallholdings
Whilst interest still exists from traditional purchasers wishing to make a living from the land, a growing number of non-agricultural buyers have emerged who may be keen to explore additional income streams from environmental assets such as natural capital.
Entrepreneurs may be attracted by Class Q permitted development rights which present opportunities for converting farm buildings into dwellings subject to conditions; this may enable further income options to make a smallholding viable. Another class of buyer simply seeks space and privacy in a rural setting.
Opportunities presented by owning a smallholding
Purchasers need to establish their aims and decide whether the holding is to be a commercial enterprise or simply provide subsistence living.
If the aim is to grow crops or vegetables, the soil quality is vital; it should preferably be well-drained with a water supply. If keeping livestock is envisaged, good quality pastureland which is fenced and offers shelter and a water supply will be required. For those wanting a rural location but lacking the knowledge or desire to carry out the necessary agricultural work, contract farming agreements with a nearby farmer could provide a solution: the farmer undertakes operations such as sowing and harvesting on a profit-share basis.
The current interest in locally produced food presents smallholders with an opportunity and an organic approach may be viable depending on the local market. Rearing rare breeds can prove an eco-friendly option if the right breed is selected to suit the holding: hardy native breeds can be ideal, requiring minimal husbandry and capable of living outside all year. If the access is suitable, sales from the holding may be possible. Proximity to farmers’ markets, other types of market and tourist hubs is relevant and sales to niche caterers and restaurants may also be advantageous. Mail order and online sales may have potential; thorough market research is advisable to assess the customer base.
Alternative income streams can result from renting land for grazing or creating tourism ventures such as campsites or holiday accommodation; location can be key here and it is important to identify any gap in the local market for an opportunity.
Unused buildings could potentially be converted or rented out for a variety of tourism or business uses, such as local craft enterprises, subject to planning consent. Depending on local demand, livery stables could prove viable if stables and paddocks are available.
There is always the option of buying a going concern with a business and customer base already in place.
Points to Remember
- A smallholding must be registered to apply for government subsidy or grants.
- A smallholding must have a County Parish Holding (CPH) number if the agricultural activity involves keeping livestock. CPH numbers can be obtained from the Rural Payments Agency.
Smallholdings for sale
Examples of current smallholdings on the market include a West Devon property which may be of interest to those wanting to access the tourist market. Coombe Park near Okehampton is close to Dartmoor National Park and includes a character 4 bedroomed house, outbuildings, hay meadows and gardens set in 8.71 acres. The asking price is £700,000.
Priced at £650,000, High Grange Farm in the East Riding of Yorkshire has potential for equestrian and leisure activities such as camping, subject to planning consent. There is a four bedroomed house and 11 acres of land, outbuildings, stables and a fishing pond.
A ready-made business opportunity comes with the sale of Stannion Road, Brigstock, Northamptonshire which includes purpose-built kennels licenced for 28 dogs, a staff mobile home, office and grooming room along with a modern four bedroomed houses and 11 acres of paddocks. The asking price is £1,300,000.
At the lower end of the scale, Fishponds Field and Barns in Lyddington, Rutland, is priced at £175,000 and comprises a Grade II listed barn with a yard, a large Dutch barn and 8.18 acres of pastureland.
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Farmers Weekly. 2021. 7 things we know about the 2021 farmland market. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed 19th August 2021)
The Scottish Farmer. 2020. Lockdown drives demand for rural property. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed 19th August 2021)
Ecological Land Cooperative. 2010. Small is successful. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed 19th August 2021)
Primelocation.com. 2014. Owning a smallholding is big business for those after the good life. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed 19th August 2021)
Start up donut. 2021. How to start up a smallholding. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed 19th August 2021)
Who owns England? 2018. How the extent of county farms has halved in 40 years. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed 19th August 2021)
Addland. 2021. The most recently listed smallholdings for sale. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed 1st September 2021)